Civil rights activists want no pepper spray at schools

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Emily Luxen

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A debate over Birmingham school resource officers' use of pepper spray to discipline students is heating up.

The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to the Birmingham School Board asking for a ban on the practice.  An attorney for the civil rights group said they have received complaints from Birmingham parents and students that officers use mace too often and unnecessarily.

Officials at the SPLC hope the letter will bring about different practices throughout the school district.

"The reality is that mace is never an acceptable form of school punishment," said Ebony Glenn Howard, the attorney for the SPLC, "Schools across the country and in Alabama are dealing with discipline issues and doing it without mace."

Birmingham school resource officers are allowed to use mace to handle discipline issues, but district officials say they don't know how often this happens.

"We just received the letter late Friday," said Afrika Parchman, the Attorney for the Birmingham School Board, "We haven't had a chance to look into accusations, however, we have talked with attorneys from city, and we are looking into it."

Birmingham Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said he hadn't seen the letter, and could not comment until he reviewed it.  The Director of Communications for the city of Birmingham, April Odom, said the Birmingham Police Department and law department also are reviewing the letter and will respond later.

SPLC officials say they hope to work with school district officials to find a better solution.  They are asking board officials to respond to the letter by Nov. 29, or a lawsuit will be filed.

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